They didn’t stumble across the Jersey Devil, but members of the Princeton Artists Alliance got up close and personal with all kinds of wild flora and fauna in New Jersey’s pinelands to prepare for a group show on the theme of the pinelands that opens on Friday, March 19, at the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville. The artists studied closely the unusual, odd landscapes and inhabitants of this remarkable place, at times literally getting down on their hands and knees to make observations.
Emile DeVito, an ecologist with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) took the artists on field trips through the pinelands, where they sketched, took photographs, and made notes. They were inspired by everything from the charred, skeletal remains of pygmy pines after a forest fire to insects that manage to exist in this often hostile environment.
For example, sculptor James Perry was moved to create “Fire Junction,” after observing the aftermath of a huge forest fire. Mixed media artist Marie Sturken produced a work of handmade paper depicting the scorched earth, with new life rising from the ashes. “I have used John McPhee’s words from his book about the Pine Barrens written 40 years ago,” Sturken writes in her artist’s statement. “From the chapter about fire, I have superimposed these powerful words, hand-lettered on transparent silk organza, on the imagery.”
Also working with handmade paper, Anita Bernarde crafted the large work “Traimea,” in homage to the “jagged-edged saddle bag” species of dragonfly she observed in the pinelands.
“Pinelands Rediscovered: The Princeton Artists Alliance” is on view at the Noyes Museum through Sunday, May 30. An opening reception takes place on Friday, March 19. Located some 20 minutes from Atlantic City, the museum is adjacent to the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, a magnificent sanctuary for creatures of the bay and salt marsh as well a haven for birders.
The exhibit brings together the communities of art, conservation, and science. Interpretations of the pinelands in sculpture, mixed media, photography, and painting describe the ecosystem and its importance in our region. The exhibition is accompanied by information from the NJCF, a longtime leader in land preservation and stewardship in the Garden State.
Consisting of nearly two dozen individuals who reside in the central New Jersey area, the PAA has been in existence for about 20 years. Artists exhibiting in this show include Joanne Augustine, Hetty Baiz, Joy Barth, Anita Benarde, Rajie Cook, Dan Finaldi, Clem Fiori, Tom Francisco, Carol Hanson, Shellie Jacobson, Margaret K. Johnson, Nancy Kern, Marsha Levin-Roger, Charles McVicker, Lucy Graves McVicker, Harry Naar, James Perry, Linda Pochesci, Madelaine Shellaby, Marie Sturken, and Barbara G. Watts.
Hanson, a landscape painter and the president of the PAA, found inspiration in an abandoned cranberry bog near Chatsworth, perhaps partly because of her memories of similar bogs near her family’s vacation home in Nantucket. Her piece in the exhibit is a large oil painting (36” by 42”), titled “The Old Cranberry Bogs in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.”
“I discovered that it was hard to find an area I thought was beautiful in the pinelands because there’s a lot of sameness (in the landscape), but I found a place where there was water, made some sketches and took photos, and then created the piece in my studio,” Hansen says. “I went back a year later and there was more water, and it added some interest to the painting.
“I exaggerate my forms and what I’m seeing; I’m not making it a replica (of the scene),” she continues. “I take what I see in terms of shape, and I construct a painting around that.”
The Skillman resident explains that there is an evolution from what she actually sees to what goes on the canvas, and the overall creative process might take months before the painting is complete. She works mainly from sketches and drawings, modifying them until she finds a composition to her liking — something that has more to do with the interactions of color, space, and line than with any attempt at a photographic reality. From the sketches, the next step is a charcoal drawing on the canvas, which is followed by a preliminary, thin underpainting, which, in turn, becomes the foundation of the final work.
“The underpainting often changes the drawing,” Hanson says. “When I paint on the canvas, I rethink the drawing in proportion and shade. Then I build up layers of paint, and that takes a long time because the paint has to dry. I have to build it up slowly and many times the painting is in my studio for months.
“This painting took me a long time, and it changed many times, and in changing, it became more abstract because it got away from the actual subject,” she adds. “I’ve looked at landscapes for so many years that I know I tend to make them more out of my imagination.”
Imagination was abundant in Hanson’s childhood in Radburn, a planned community — one of the country’s first — within Fairlawn. She had an artistic grandmother and a mother who was a ballet dancer and had been a performer in vaudeville as well. She mentions that her English great-grandfather was a court photographer, and among the family heirlooms are photographs of the British royal family and their friends and guests. She even recalls recognizing a Russian czar in one photo.
“There is a long line of culture and appreciation of the arts in my family,” Hanson says. “My grandmother got me started with art lessons when I was very young. I used to paint in the summer when we went to Nantucket, so I have loads of paintings from when I was a child. It shows the impact that grandparents can have on children.”
Hanson says she painted all throughout high school but did not major in art at Brown University, where she graduated in 1958 with a degree in American history and literature. After settling in Wyckoff and raising her family, Hanson reunited with her creative side and studied drawing and painting at the Art Students’ League in New York, as well as the Art Center of Northern New Jersey in New Milford.
She continued her studies with private teachers and in master critique classes. After moving to central New Jersey about 25 years ago, Hanson studied printmaking at Princeton-Trenton Artworks (now simply known as Artworks.) She names numerous painters as influences, particularly Paul Cezanne, Wolf Kahn, and American abstract expressionist Richard Diebenkorn.
Represented by the Tobias Gallery in Nantucket, Hanson has exhibited in numerous solo, group, and juried shows, winning several top prizes. Her work is in many private collections and in several corporate collections including the Johnson & Johnson collection.
She is married to Richard A. Hansen, formerly an executive with Merrill Lynch in Plainsboro, now retired. “My husband’s job was moved here when Merrill Lynch built the place in Plainsboro, and I love living here,” Hanson says. “I would never move.”
The Hansons have two grown children, Alex, of Pennington, a partner in a Princeton-based hedge fund firm, and Craig, who runs a small business and lives in Charlottesville, VA. The two sons and their wives have three children each, and, just as her grandmother did for her, Hansen has tried to instill a love for art in her six grandchildren.
The experience of discovering the pinelands has affected Hanson in a few ways. For one, she observed encroaching development and construction and senses this is a serious issue for those who wish to protect the pinelands. Mostly, she absorbed the mystery and strangeness — as well as the expansiveness — of the area. In her artist’s statement, she writes, “Standing on the windswept plain of the large cranberry bog on a day late in the fall, I could see definite traces of the old bog, with marshes and wetland growth. I couldn’t paint the wind, but did try to capture a concept of the simplicity of the space.”
Pinelands Rediscovered: The Princeton Artists Alliance,” opening Friday, March 19, 5 to 8 p.m., Noyes Museum of Art, 733 Lily Lake Road, Oceanville. On view through Sunday, May 30. 609-652-8848 or www.princetonartists.org.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. www.noyesmuseum.org.